Alzheimer’s Care and Music Therapy

May 17, 2013
Background music can help family caregivers soothe Alzheimer's patients

Background music can help family caregivers soothe Alzheimer’s patients

“Sing a song, sing out loud,” “carry a tune in your heart” and “whistle a happy tune” are some of our popular references to how music impacts our moods.  Family members caring for aging parents and Alzheimer’s patients have learned that music  therapy can help manage behavior during certain caregiving tasks such as bath time or bed time.

Often, background music has more of an impact on managing behavior than an over-bearing beat.  Background music is unobtrusive while helping to make unconscious, subtle impressions upon its listeners.  Clearly, the inventors of Muzak knew this and the fact that so many places, from department stores to doctors’ offices, use background music indicates its effectiveness.

Here are a few tips on how to use background music to help your loved one with Alzheimer’s.

Know what musical selections are likely to be familiar. For the most part, the effective use of background music involves selecting songs that do not already have strong associations, positive or negative, for the listener.

  1. Select music that is likely to bring about the desired reaction. If you want to help keep your loved one awake, a soothing lullaby is unlikely to do the trick; something in a march tempo or with a lively beat may be a better bet.  On the other hand, if your goal is to relax your charge so that he or she is in a better frame of mind for a doctor’s visit or can drift off to sleep more easily, that disco medley may not work.
  2. Repetition can be a plus or a minus. Using the same set of songs to ease Mom off to sleep may make the going-to-bed experience more comforting and familiar.  On the other hand, some patients may become so used to the music that they want to stay awake and listen to it, which defeats the purpose of the music.  Monitor reactions and see if your particular loved one falls into one or the other of these categories and act accordingly.
  3. Share your secrets. If the use of background music, and especially of specific songs in specific situations, becomes routine and expected, make sure anyone who shares caregiving duties or who temporarily relieves you of your duties knows about this.  If you have the opportunity to go out for a dinner and a movie, you don’t want a frantic call from your sister because Dad won’t take a bath because he misses his bathtub tunes.

Music and the memory of music is a huge part of many of our lives and introducing music therapy to daily routines can have a positive impact on aging parents, as well as the caregiver.

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